Meet a Breakthrough student on the path to college Read their story!


March 2022

Be Breakthrough Student Spotlight: Jamila Dauda

by Hallie O’Neill

“For me, being new to this country, I didn’t know Minnesota very well,” Jamila Dauda said. “If it wasn’t for Breakthrough, I wouldn’t really know about any of the college options here. I would’ve struggled a bit to understand it.”

Jamila, a junior at Two Rivers High School and an enthusiastic program participant, has loved Breakthrough from the start. She learned about BTC just as most students do, from a guest presentation at her Saint Paul middle school, but it was especially exciting to her as a relatively new resident of Minnesota. Her family had recently arrived in the Twin Cities from Uganda Kampala.

Upon participating in her first Breakthrough summer, she was amazed that she had the chance to preview the academic topics of the year ahead, and she felt much more prepared for and confident about starting seventh grade.

Jamila learned lasting habits as a result of that first summer and they actively contribute to her current success in her junior year of high school. Not only is Jamila high-performing in her regular academic life, but she somehow manages to take on PSEO credits (Post Secondary Enrollment Options) through Inver Hills Community College, as well. She notes that she’s come a long way in her ability to manage such a busy schedule.

“I used to struggle with time management and I wasn’t always on time,” Jamila said. “During the summer program, we had to wake up early in the morning and be on time for Breakthrough. That was also when I started using a planner for the first time.”

Among her favorite Breakthrough memories is her experience as a rising ninth grader participating in the Breakthrough Leaders Program (BLP) retreat. In the summer of 2019, she and her classmates hopped on buses and headed up to Saint John’s University to spend a few nights on campus building community, preparing for high school, and talking more seriously about college and career.

What she liked most about the retreat, though, was getting to experience an all-girls sleepover in the dorms, something that was brand new for her.

“We didn’t even really sleep, we just stayed awake in the dorms telling stories,” Jamila said. “I liked it, because I got the chance to be away from my family and do grown-up things.”

When Jamila’s family moved from Saint Paul to Eagan mid-way through the program, she was worried that she’d lose the community she built at Breakthrough. But the BTC commitment holds true to each student no matter where life takes them; once accepted into the program, BTC will meet you where you are at. Although it’s more difficult sometimes for Jamila to find a ride to program events, she noted that if she asks BTC staff for help, someone will always make sure she gets to where she needs to be.

As she prepares for her final year of high school, she’s looking forward to staying in Minnesota for her education and propelling herself in the medical field, either as a doctor or a nurse. Through BTC programming and conversations with her college counselor, she’s learned a lot about the different routes she can take, like allocating her PSEO credits to her degree or trying a two-year program first. She certainly isn’t afraid to explore.

“I used to be a quiet person, and I didn’t really talk to people until I got to Breakthrough,” Jamila said. “But we do a lot of group activities, and that helped me with my communication skills. I’m really good at it now.”




February 2022

Be Breakthrough Student Spotlight: Max Yang

by Hallie O’Neill

For 18-year old Max, Breakthrough Twin Cities came around at just the right time. After receiving a scholarship in first grade, he was able to attend a private school from elementary up until the end of middle school. Though he was grateful for the academic opportunity, there was still something missing in his social life.

“I felt really lonely,” Max said. “I had friends, and people knew me, but I felt really isolated being the only Hmong kid [in my grade], and at that point, only one of two Asian boys. I was really self-conscious.”

But then, after a recommendation from one of his teachers, he found out about Breakthrough Twin Cities. Once he applied, he was accepted into the program.

“For the first time, I was able to talk and hang out with kids like me,” Max said. “Being able to connect with people in that way, and to connect with myself, it was like a burst of life.”

And there’s no more accurate way to describe the high-energy pace of a Breakthrough summer. Though academically rigorous, the summer program regularly incorporates games, creative arts, outdoor activities, and even things like dance courses. Apart from preparing students for the next year of school and beyond, the program is built to provide an enthusiastically supportive community to students like Max. His introduction to BTC, he notes, opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

“At first, I was taken aback by the enthusiasm of everyone,” said Max. “I tend to be a low-energy person, and I’m fairly introverted — at least I thought so until I went to Breakthrough. At the time, it felt like I was acting like someone else, but I was really just coming into myself. BTC helped me mature.”

Now a senior at Central High School, Max continues to realize the value of his participation in BTC, and how its impact has extended from his life as a seventh grader to his life now. Although Max had always planned to go to college, BTC provided necessary guidance on how to start planning for it.

“I didn’t know what college was like, I didn’t understand the idea or the concept,” he said. “Breakthrough helped me flesh out that idea, and made the dream that much brighter.”

Max loves English, and he plans to study the discipline when he heads off to college next fall. He’s prepared his applications and eagerly awaits the decision that will determine his next step in life. He’s always been drawn to storytelling, and hopes this passion will develop into a career in the humanities, in social work, or even as a defense attorney.

The one sure thing is that Max won’t forget the student peers and Teaching Fellows who supported him along the way. Even today, he marvels at how much everyone cried at the end of each Breakthrough summer, feeling moved to think that he’d be missed that much by teachers he’d only known for a few weeks. Beyond being an excellent source of academic enrichment, the program became something he was emotionally invested in, too. He can still feel the support of his BTC community today.

“Breakthrough has prepared me to become who I am today and who I will be tomorrow. For me, it was so foundational,” Max said. “Even if it is just a step, it’s a critical step. If I didn’t have BTC, the Max you’re talking to today would be a completely different person with a very different set of experiences.”




January 2022

Funder Spotlight: Allianz Life Insurance Company

by Hallie O’Neill

Allianz Life Insurance Company has been a Breakthrough partner since 2019, committing generously to our mission. For the next year, Allianz has doubled their commitment to BTC.

“Breakthrough is doing great work and has a track record of success,” said Laura Juergens, Allianz’s Community Relations Manager.

Breakthrough is just one of Allianz’s many nonprofit partners receiving funding under the category of youth development and inclusion this year. As the company shifts its funding priorities in the coming year, the work that BTC does will support its goals to reduce barriers to economic inclusion by increasing financial sustainability.

“We know that if you get a college diploma, you can earn twice as much as someone who has a high school degree,” said Juergens. “We think that’s really important, supporting especially students of color who are trying to get that college access.”

Financial sustainability is bolstered through equal access to education and gainful employment, which is why Allianz seeks out organizations making an impact through positive career pathways. Fittingly, Breakthrough’s college prep program aims to open doors to these opportunities for youth in the Twin Cities.

“We believe success is sustained through access to resources and opportunities, especially college preparedness, college access, and skills training,” said Juergens. “We are also going to prioritize organizations that address racial equity and reflect the communities they serve.”

Allianz employees regularly engage in volunteer opportunities that deepen the company’s relationships to their partner organizations, and Allianz connects employees to opportunities that align with their individual interests and passions. Employees also participate in activities like e-mentoring and job shadows through BestPrep and Junior Achievement.

“Once we partner with organizations, we look for opportunities to get involved further, whether that be through skill-based volunteer opportunities or just with programming in general,” said Juergens. “We have passion and employees who give back.”

Allianz has emphasized this level of commitment at all levels within the company, noting that volunteer work paired with grantmaking is a meaningful way for companies to enact positive social change. For Allianz, the need to do so is more critical than ever before, especially to address long standing inequities in the local socioeconomic landscape.

To learn more about Allianz’s new community engagement strategy, visit their website:




October 2021

Donor Spotlight: Dylan Saul

by Hallie O’Neill

Dylan Saul has done just about everything when it comes to his involvement with Breakthrough. After working as a Teaching Fellow in the summer of 2013, he was compelled to come back for a second summer in 2014. After that, he was an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow in 2018, then a Dean for the consecutive summers of 2019 and 2020.

Now, he’s in his second year of law school at the University of Minnesota, and he continues to support BTC: this time, as a donor. His reason for giving — even despite still being enrolled in school — is a personal one.

“I knew that BTC had done so much for me personally,” Dylan said. “I grew so much during my time at BTC, and professionally, it gave me so much experience that I could speak to during law school interviews.”

But unlike others who give monetary support to the organization, Dylan has firsthand experience with the program and its students, especially after spending five summers entrenched in the energetic community that is Breakthrough.

“I felt that I owed BTC personally, but more important than that was the knowledge that the money would be well-spent,” Dylan said. “There’s nothing more important than investing in children, especially the young students at BTC who are so driven, so talented, and have such a great plethora of opportunities before them.”

Dylan felt a sense of community immediately when he began his first Breakthrough summer, even noting that he felt like a different person as a result. He believes a lot of his current values are inspired and instilled by Breakthrough curriculum — values that inform his everyday life, making him a “better student, better worker, and better friend.”

He noted that the difference in Breakthrough’s approach is its attention to the entire student aside from sole academics. Along with the goal of career success, there’s a strong emphasis on embracing one’s unique qualities and background. Dylan found it revolutionary, not to mention effective. He watched for two summers as his students excelled academically while learning to love themselves and treat each other with kindness and respect.

“I can’t say enough about BTC students. They’re incredible,” Dylan said. “BTC is a place that encourages students to be themselves, but also gives students some of the tools and connections to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. It’s just so rewarding to watch.”

Apart from developing well-rounded students, Dylan saw how the Breakthrough model affected its Teaching Fellows. He found himself and his peers in critical reflection throughout their summer together, finding community in one another as they thought about their own futures and goals. His students formed bonds with him that withstood years of distance; he taught 7th and 8th graders during his first summer, and when he came back as a dean years later, his students remembered his name and wanted to meet with him to catch up.

“That’s not saying anything special about me, that’s saying something about the program,” Dylan said. “The students form powerful bonds with each other and with the teachers over the years, and that stays.”

Even after their time with Breakthrough was complete and these students were off to college, they kept in touch with Dylan and shared their college experiences with him. These bonds forged in the program ended up being a long-lasting connection of support throughout both the students’ and Dylan’s lives.

Dylan views his work today as a direct continuation of the work he did at BTC. While he never became a traditional teacher, he intends to keep youth at the center of his journey beyond law school. Next year, he’ll work with the Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic at the U of M, working to represent juveniles who have been accused of crimes and given harsh sentences at young ages. He intends to carry out this focus into an eventual career centered on Twin Cities youth.

All the while, he plans to keep in touch with BTC in any way possible — still, it seems, unable to walk away from what he experienced here.

“What BTC really is, more than anything else, is a community,” Dylan said. “Giving back to the community in a way that allows people to build from the ground up is so important. The work that’s being done at BTC, you can see the direct impact of it. Students are doing amazing things, getting amazing scholarships, finding passions and careers that they’re really excited about. . . . There’s just no better place to invest than in young students who are ready to have all these amazing successes down the road.”


Donor Spotlight: Raven Pillmann

by Hallie O’Neill

In 2012, Raven Pillmann graduated from Breakthrough’s second ever graduating class. He was one of just ten students completing the program. At the time still called Breakthrough Saint Paul, the program was in its infancy, but today, Raven is a walking testament to BTC’s lasting success.

After he graduated from the program, Raven went on to study computer science at Carleton College before continuing on to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where he studied computer science again with a focus on artificial intelligence. He now works as a software engineer for a start-up company in Seattle that specializes in agriculture technology.

Despite graduating from the program over ten years ago, he is still very much involved — now, as a regular donor.

“I really do think I benefited from being in the program,” Raven said, “and I feel like I’m in a position now where I’m able to consistently give, and it’s sort of the one place I can give to that I know can work. It helped me a lot.”

For Raven, who was a student who always dreamed of going to college, BTC was one of the first times he felt challenged academically. Apart from having fun and making long-lasting friends, he felt pushed to achieve greater things and be curious. He remembers taking an algebra class in his seventh grade year and realizing that he already learned most of the concepts during the Breakthrough summer program a few months prior. This allowed him to get ahead and stay ahead.

But that doesn’t mean it was always easy for Raven. He recalled a time where he felt frustrated enough to quit the program, overwhelmed by the work it added to his typical load of schoolwork. Through the supportive community he found within the program, he was able to stick with it and learn about perseverance along the way, a value he still embodies to this day.

The most valuable part of the program for Raven was the support around college searching and preparation. He notes that he likely would’ve still gone to college if he hadn’t been in Breakthrough, but the program — and college counselors like Wade Peterson — guided him towards discovering his interests in math and science, which eventually informed his college search. He was supported in seeking out financial aid and scholarships, studying for the ACT and SAT exams, and narrowing his college list down to ones that would not only be financially feasible, but would foster his creativity and curiosity. That’s how he landed on liberal arts colleges and eventually Carleton.

“One of the big things that BTC got right from the beginning is that it’s free,” Raven said. “It doesn’t cost families to send their kids there. Even a low tuition fee wouldn’t make it as accessible to everybody in the way that it is now. That’s an important part of the program’s success, and just opens the doors to people like me who don’t have parents that went to college, or who don’t have family who knows how to navigate that sphere. There’s people around you at BTC who can navigate it with you.”

As a first generation college student, this navigation support was crucial for Raven. His involvement in Breakthrough, he believes, set him apart as he began his college search and alleviated a lot of stress for his family. This is what drives him to give at the rate he does now — so that other families can send their children to college without having to worry about navigating higher education systems that may be unfamiliar and daunting. He hopes that his monthly contributions can continue to keep the program free of cost for future participating students and families.

“Giving monthly rather than one time allows for this consistent, reliable, fixed income for the program that hopefully helps with planning things,” Raven said. “I feel like I owe it to the program to make sure I can pay it forward to other families.”

Raven began supporting Breakthrough regularly after he finished his graduate degree and started his career, which he’s been doing for the past year and a half. Even before he started donating, he says, various people in the Breakthrough community reached out to him and made him feel supported. For him, that was uniquely special.

“Even after I graduated from the program, there was this feeling that the people who worked here really cared about my story and whatever I was going through,” Raven said. “I still have conversations with people at the BTC office to this day. It’s really touching, and I don’t think I’d get that from any other program.”

Though his motivation to give is also deeply personal, Raven continues to contribute with the hope that the program can support other young students like him in the years to come.



July 2021

Teaching Fellow Spotlight: Abby Stoa

by Hallie O’Neill

A year ago, Abby Stoa prepared for her first Breakthrough summer under extraordinary circumstances. She’d been placed as a Teaching Fellow in 7th grade writing, and as the pandemic progressed throughout the spring of 2020, she learned she’d have to teach her students virtually. It was her first major teaching experience — she was still a high school student herself — and the situation was unlike any other.

“I had a lot of preconceived notions about what teaching was, and then it was completely thrown out the window,” Abby said. For the first time, she delved deeply into the logistics of lesson planning, working closely with an Instructional Coach to deliver quality lessons to her students, with whom she could unfortunately only meet via a computer screen.

After a virtual summer of learning and building connections, Abby was able to keep in touch with her students in her position as a School Year Coach during the 20-21 academic year. She called and checked in with them once a month, forging bonds of support during a tough academic year. She also volunteered her time to review applications from the incoming Breakthrough class this past spring — it seems she just can’t get enough of BTC, fueled by the personal stories she read in student applications.

“Something about Breakthrough students is so inspiring to me,” she said. “They’re some of the most interesting people I’ve talked to, ever.” This summer, Abby will teach 7th grade writing again, and she’s looking forward to having a few more in-person opportunities to connect with her new student cohort.

Abby has felt called to be a teacher ever since she was in middle school, always knowing she was an extrovert with a need to help others. But Breakthrough, she says, really validated this calling and put it into action. Among other things, the culturally responsive approach to teaching she learned during the summer of 2020 completely transformed how she wants to approach her teaching career.

“One way I can relate to my students is knowing what it feels like to be in classrooms where your teacher never looks like you,” Abby said, reflecting on her own identity as an adoptee from China. “Being in a setting where there are a lot of Asian students, I hope that when they see me, they can see themselves, too.”

Abby graduated from Lakeville High School last month and plans to attend UW Madison this fall to study sociology before transitioning into a master’s program in secondary education. After that, she intends to continue working in schools and programs that focus on closing the opportunity gap for young students of color.



by Hallie O’Neill

3M has long been a leader in funding STEM opportunities for young people and folks who are underrepresented in STEM and skilled trade fields. The corporation has supported Breakthrough as a core partner for over a decade, making many of our STEM-related initiatives possible.

“3M wants to support the next generation of scientists and engineers, so Breakthrough has been the perfect fit for us,” said Jacqueline Berry, Global Communications Manager at 3M.

Though 3M has been a consistent partner of BTC’s for much longer, the corporation set a new and groundbreaking goal this past spring: by the end of 2025, 3M will advance economic equity by creating five million unique STEM and skilled trades learning experiences for underrepresented individuals.

“To advance this goal, we want to invest in initiatives that give students hands-on experiences, just like Breakthrough,” said Berry. “Programs like this one encourage them to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations.”

And at BTC, these real-world applications are tangible. In Breakthrough’s summer program, middle school students receive 20 hours of STEM instruction (which is 50% of our core curriculum) over five weeks, and additional STEM experiences are available through elective courses chosen by the students. The courses offered encourage BTC students to think outside the box and be creative when it comes to STEM topics. In one course, students use science to explore the causes of climate change while also uncovering topics like environmental racism and justice; in another, students explore math as a creative field, practicing open-mindedness as they try various techniques to see how they learn math the best.

These courses wouldn’t be possible without our Teaching Fellows, half of whom teach STEM topics exclusively. As an organization, BTC reserves $300,000 of its budget to invest in STEM opportunities, with a part of this going towards Teaching Fellow training and preparation. Other initiatives include STEM-related field trips, guest speakers, and more — one summer, students even got to hear a presentation by a guest from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Neurology, who brought in human brains for an interactive activity.

3M’s continued support of BTC’s mission and students has been crucial as they continue to pave the way for other corporations by giving back to the community. Apart from investing in programs like BTC, other experiences included towards 3M’s goal will include scholarships, internships, volunteering opportunities, and more.

“Our ultimate goal is to support students and get them interested in and excited about STEM,” said Berry. “Our hope is that this effort will advance economic equity for all, leveling the pathway towards fulfilling and high-paying careers.”



June 2021

From the Executive Director

by Josh Reimnitz

We are excited to be starting a fresh summer of learning and growth for our students and Teaching Fellows! This time of year has also brought on a lot of reflection as we close the school year and comprehend the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the tragic loss of George Floyd and ensuing uprisings, and the racially motivated incidents of violence against Asians and Asian-Americans. Throughout it all, Breakthrough maintained a sense of urgency to ensure that Breakthrough students felt supported.

One of the strengths of the Breakthrough model is students have the opportunity to be themselves. With individualized advising, coaching, and counseling, coupled with small and large group experiences, Breakthrough fosters a community in which students can be themselves.

Though the pain, processing, and difficulties unequally continue today, we have found ways to use these crises to cultivate growth and positive change. At Breakthrough, that means a comprehensive look at our practices to unlearn aspects of white supremacy culture within our organization and leadership, myself included. It means addressing our faculty’s stipends who give their all during the summer and deserve to be fairly compensated. And it means taking a difficult set of circumstances and finding ways to connect and reimagine how an already strong program can get even better.

We are excited to host a hybrid summer program that will be a mix of virtual learning and in-person activities – as being able to gather for community and the social-emotional building feels essential for how we collectively move forward. Also, despite setbacks from the pandemic, our Breakthrough class of 2021 finished strong and includes 78 graduating seniors – our largest class yet! Students are off to some of the most prestigious colleges, including Stanford, Yale, Duke, Carleton, Grinnell, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

We look forward to sharing updates with you about the summer programming and heading back for more in-person learning opportunities in the fall.


Josh Reimnitz
Executive Director


Senior Spotlight: Twins!

by Hallie O’Neill


Twin sisters Lay Lay and Let Let will move into their next chapter together as they both prepare to attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Lay Lay and Let Let were incredibly involved both inside and outside of school throughout their middle and high school years as Breakthrough students, participating in activities like the National Honor Society, Junior ROTC, dance, and other athletics, to name a few.

As high school juniors, Lay Lay and Let Let were accepted into the Breakthrough Student Representatives (BSR) program, where they had opportunities to speak about their experiences at important events. BSRs are expected to model the Breakthrough Codes, including Relish Hard Work Together, Live the Growth Mindset, and Persist, all of which Lay Lay and Let Let do extremely well—and all of which will be invaluable skills when they head to the U of M this fall.

The sisters were born in a Thailand refugee camp, and immigrated to the US with their parents at the age of seven. Their high school graduation, accolades, and college acceptances are testaments to their hard work and resilience. Lay Lay and Let Let have not only learned to navigate a new country, they have thrived as advocates for themselves and their family. Says Let Let, “Breakthrough has changed me as a person—to become a person who can help myself.”


For a duo who regularly participated in summer school simply “because it was fun,” it’s no surprise that Tony and Eric Wang will both be attending Yale University this fall.

Tony and Eric lived in China for the first five years of their lives before moving around through rural Minnesota and Wisconsin for a few years before settling in St. Paul. As they moved from school to school, they found it difficult to stay academically challenged. Then they became Breakthrough students, and new doors suddenly opened. To this day, past Teaching Fellows are some of the twins’ greatest role models. “The Teaching Fellows were knowledgeable enough to teach us, but they were relatable enough to be friends with,” Eric said. “It really opened my eyes, because school always seemed like a system to discipline kids. But Breakthrough’s system was really all about pursuing knowledge without your teachers imposing it on you.”

Seeing Teaching Fellows who were enrolled at prestigious colleges gave them the inspiration to aim high as well, seeing that these options weren’t impossible for students from first-generation, immigrant, and/or low-income backgrounds. When Tony was in 7th grade, for example, he told a TF that he dreamed of going to Stanford, and the TF replied with, “Yeah, you can absolutely do it.” Both Tony and Eric soon understood that they truly could.

In high school, both Tony and Eric were involved in robotics and tennis, among other extracurriculars like orchestra. They are excited for this next step, already knowing that Yale will be a perfect fit for both of their varied creative interests. Eric plans to explore cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology as possible majors, and Tony will start exploring and then choose between architecture, sociology, or visual arts. They both want to continue growing in their leadership skills and build a community at Yale that feels like a home away from home — and all the while, they’ll have each other to lean on.


Senior Spotlight: Full Ride to Duke

by Hallie O’Neill

As she graduates from Harding High School this spring, senior Tochi Onuegbu has a lot to look forward to, especially since having just recently accepted a full-ride scholarship to Duke University.

Tochi joined Breakthrough after hearing about the program from her older sister, another BTC alum. “Being involved with Breakthrough really helped me navigate the whole college process as a first-generation student,” Tochi said. As Nigerian immigrants, Tochi and her family weren’t familiar with the college preparation and application process in the US, and she cited BTC’s college counseling program as pivotal to her academic journey.

Tochi’s interests are boundless, and she plans to explore English, STEM, statistical sciences, and even biochemistry when she arrives on Duke’s campus this fall. The biggest thing she’ll miss about Breakthrough is the sense of community it provided for her, noting that the friends she made are connections she’ll carry with her throughout her lifetime. However, she knows that the values instilled in her by her family and the Breakthrough community will set her up for success as an undergraduate student next year.

“My parents have always wanted the best for me. That was the main reason why they came to America. I really worked hard throughout high school and throughout my whole academic career, and I think it paid off. Not only did I make them proud, but I made myself proud.”



March 2021

Board Spotlight

by Kate Tucker

Allie Newman first learned of Breakthrough Twin Cities about the time of Y2K when she was the Director of Admission at Mounds Park Academy. At the time, Breakthrough was formulating its partnership with the school. While Allie moved on from MPA into the corporate world, she kept her pulse on what was happening with the newly formed organization and became a supporter. Several years later, Allie was asked to join the Board and is now serving in her second term.

When asked what’s kept Allie engaged over the years, she said, “I feel strongly as a person of color that I need to do my part to help close the achievement gap in MN – for my children, their friends, and for our community.” She noted that early data is showing the achievement gap is widening due to the pandemic. There’s a long road ahead, and Breakthrough can be part of the solution. 

Allie also loves Breakthrough’s dual mission, where students teach students and simultaneously strive to advance the number of teachers of colors in US schools. “As Asian students, I wish my children had teachers of color who could be role models for them. My daughter had a Korean principal in elementary school, and it was such a fun connection for her and our family. In their current schools, my kids don’t have many role models of color.  That was the very same for me – and I would have thought things would change over 40 years.” 

Today, only 4.3% of Minnesota teachers identify as a person of color. As a Board member and supporter, Allie shared, “I’ve seen the results this program has on its’ alums and have heard firsthand what BTC graduates are doing in the world, and it’s significant.  Several are changing their communities singlehandedly.”

Allie’s husband, Justin, is a middle school teacher in Eastern Carver County (ECC). Beginning in 2017, they began bringing educator friends and community influencers to Breakthrough’s annual gala.  Together with those friends, Justin introduced Breakthrough to the district because they saw the program’s ability to serve its talented yet under-resourced students, which they view as a solution to help close the achievement gap. The district agreed and formed a partnership between Breakthrough and ECC. Breakthrough would open a third site in the western metro in 2020. 

Not only has the ECC district provided space for the program to take place, but it’s also investing in a portion of funding to make it possible. However, Breakthrough needed funds upfront to launch the site, so in that same year, Breakthrough received more than $500,000 from the Cargill Foundation, and the first virtual cohort began amidst the pandemic. The gift from Cargill Inc., Allie’s employer, is the largest grant in the organization’s history. The expansion into Eastern Carver County is mainly due to Allie and Justin’s deeply rooted belief in helping all students unlock their achievement potential and, by doing so, create a better future for generations to come.




January 2021

From the Executive Director

by Josh Reimnitz

Hello and Happy New Year!

We’re so excited to share Breakthrough Twin Cities news with you in this new monthly format! Breaking Through will spotlight our collective BTC community, serving as a window into the incredible group of students, Teaching Fellows, alumni, supporters, staff, and board who make up Breakthrough. You’ll hear stories and updates about our work, as well as insights into why BTC is needed in the Twin Cities.

Last year was challenging in many respects, but BTC was committed to learning, adapting, and growing through that difficulty. You may know we work to cultivate and reinforce strong character traits in BTC students and Teaching Fellows through our Codes for Success. We use these same Codes as a staff and, in 2020, we had to lean on a couple of our Codes for Success more than in the past; specifically, Relish Hard Work Together and Persist. 

Through that hard work and persistence, I see Breakthrough Twin Cities emerging stronger than ever in 2021! We’ve all had to adapt over the last year, and BTC is taking that need to shift and using it as an opportunity to transform and, in video game speak, level up. We find new ways to communicate with our students and families and stay connected with the broader BTC community that will last beyond the pandemic. We are evaluating every aspect of our programming and organization to be a genuinely anti-racist organization that supports students and aspiring educators now while also bucking a system that’s structured to hold them back. Some of these changes will take time, while others we have already implemented.

I’m so excited for the year ahead and for you to be involved in the vital work we’re doing to level the playing field and allow remarkable students to reach their fullest potential. We’ll keep you informed through this publication and our regular e-newsletter, but if there are more ways you would like to be engaged, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We need a large community to achieve the results we’re seeking, and your involvement is essential in attaining that success.

Thank you for being involved in Breakthrough Twin Cities and its impact on the wonderful and deserving youth of our community!


Staff Spotlight

Welcome Maya Ziegler

In December, Breakthrough welcomed a new Program Director to the team, Maya Zeigler. While she’s new to Breakthrough, she’s devoted her career to education and nonprofit management. Maya’s path started as a middle school KIPP student. She said, “I didn’t realize it was unique to stay connected to middle school teachers until I got to college and started realizing that was not the case for everyone. KIPP opened up a lot of opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to, and for which I remain grateful.” These reflections set a fire in her to devote her energy to paying it forward for other students.

Throughout her career, Maya’s worn various hats, from working in a classroom as an AmeriCorps service member to creating curriculum and nonprofit program management. She’s thrilled to be bringing her experiences to Breakthrough, an organization that closely aligns with her values. Looking ahead, Maya is excited to dive into the recruitment process for Teaching Fellows and planning for Summer 2021 programming. She’s passionate about attracting teachers of color to the field and serving students. This belief stems back to her own experience serving as a Teaching Fellow for a similar organization in college. The energy of being in an intensive student-teaching-student model is unmatched to anything else she’s encountered, and she can’t wait to see it in action at Breakthrough.

On a personal note, Maya is from Philadelphia but dislikes Philly Cheese Steaks. She will, though, tell you the right places to go if that is your sort of thing. Join us for a Zoom coffee with Maya on Thursday, January 21 to have a chance to meet her yourself!

Breakthrough Twin Cities

2051 Larpenteur Ave E, Saint Paul, MN 55109, USA